Wednesday, June 3, 2015


While subbing in a middle school library recently things were rather slow. I had few classes scheduled. The student library assistants took care of the mundane clerical tasks. Students who came in for research were independent and needed little help from a sub. The shelves appeared to be in order so there was no need to reorganize. So....what is a library sub to do? Well....find a book to read, of course.

I stumbled across a title that sounded interesting even though it was nonfiction.  ( I generally don't read nonfiction....just a personal preference.)  The title was Popular; How a Geek in Pearls Discovered the Secret to Confidence by Maya Van Wagenen.  Having struggled with popularity my entire lifetime and being a self proclaimed geek, I was intrigued. Add the fact that the author was 15 years old and I was hooked.

The book that changed Maya's lfe..
This book is a memoir/journal of the author's 8th grade year in a Brownsville, Texas public school.  While helping her college professor father reorganize his personal library, Maya runs across a 1950's guide to popularity. (He apparently picked this book up at a used book store and bought it for a laugh.) Maya reads this book and takes its advice to heart. She decides to follow this
guide through her 8th grade year in an attempt to see if it would raise her from her geek status.

All I can say is WOW! What a transformation this decision brings to Maya's life and, for a brief time, to the culture of her school.  I literally could not stop reading this book or book talking it to every student and teacher I encountered.  What a perfect book study for the right group of middle school girls!  How I wished I had read something like this when I was that age. Could I have followed Maya's example? Not in a million years!  If you think cliques are bad in the current middle school, you haven't lived through the 1970's in small town me!

And this book stayed with me. I kept thinking about it days after I had finished reading it. Then something interesting happened. In the book Maya categorizes the middle school food chain from the popular volleyball girls thru the lowest of the low, substitute teachers. (Regular teachers are rated a 9.) While I was subbing at this school and after I had finished the book, a teacher was scheduled to bring 2 of her 7th grade reading classes to the library. Because these students were facing the state mandated tests the following week, I elected to use this time as a checkout period. That is not what this teacher had in mind for thess class periods. She expected a lesson for her darlings, something that she was not required to plan or in which to participate.  When she learned of my plan, she seated herself at a table in the back of the room and actually folded her hands as if to say, "They are all yours, honey." Her classes' behavior was totally out of control and I could not reign them in. She did nothing to support me or to curb their behavior.  Now this teacher was a cute, perky blond in her mid 30's. Think drill team captain or volleyball team you see where I am going here? It suddenly dawned on me that this was exactly what Maya encountered in middle school and that I was, in fact, the lowest of the low....a substitute teacher.  I wish I could say that I reached into this book and pulled out some wisdom that saved the day and made me the most awesome sub ever but that didn't happen. What happened was that this experience opened my eyes to the fact that this was not an adolescent phenomenon. This social hierarchy exists with people (women) no matter what their age. And few of us are brave enough to step forth like Maya and face it head on.

I wish that my book club was a female only book club but it is not. This book is so worth the attention of adult, ladies book clubs.  What a discussion it would bring about of how women treat each other, no matter their age. Unfortunately guys would not relate.....boys and men have their own pecking order but Maya's solutions would not work and I don't think guys could relate.

So if you are looking for a great read or have a middle school young lady in your sphere of influence, please pick up Popular by Maya Van Wagenen. I personally guarantee that you won't be sorry.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mothers of sons

Mother's Day is always a bittersweet celebration for me. I can almost hear the collective sigh of relief from my family that the spring gifting season is over.....our wedding anniversary followed by my birthday and then Mother's Day is almost more than the males can handle.  

I recall those early years of our marriage when, at Sunday mass on Mother's Day, the priest would ask all of the mothers to stand for special recognition. I desperately wanted to join those standing but God had not yet blessed us with our sons. It was another example of my belief that I was a cucumber in a world of watermelons and all I could think about was being a watermelon. Not being able to stand with the watermelons was a knife in my heart.

Then there were the years that the entire family dreaded going to church on Mother's Day because we knew what we had to look forward to when it came time for the homily.  Father Jerry always started off his sermon with something like, "Please stand so that we can bless all of the mothers here today even though I hate this day. You see, my mother died on Mother's Day." Talk about a buzz kill!  If his intention was to make us all feel sorry for him, it worked but probably not in the way he hoped. I felt sorry that he felt the need to try to spoil the day for everyone else and it reinforced my opinion that he was a deeply troubled individual.

I lost my mom almost 6 years ago and I miss her every every day...not just on Mother's Day.  I still think that I should make that phone call every Sunday.  A 40 year old habit is hard to break.

Those gifts that the boys made at preschool and elementary school were definitely the sweet
moments.  I'm thankful that I can look forward to reliving these joys vicariously through our DIL as her time to be on the receiving end of these glue ladened treasures is just beginning. I still have some of these favorite gifts pressed away in baby books. 

But being the mother of only boys puts the "holiday" in a different perspective. I've envy my friends as they rushed off to those Mother/Daughter banquets, those Mom and me spa days, those girl's only shopping trips. I know God knew what he was doing when He decided that I wouldn't be the best parent for a girl....I'm horrible at hair bows and makeup...but missing out on buying that First Communion dress and watching your baby girl say yes to THE dress are moments I'll never have.  Boys don't need a mother to pick out a tux and in the case of a wedding even they really have little say in the matter.  The bride has final approval of all things wedding. I've missed those shared mother daughter confidences. Boys don't tell you about their first are forced to guess...or, as I did, interrogate their friends.  Boys generally are not sentimental so those family treasures that have passed from generation to generation will likely not pass on once I'm gone.  Understandably a DIL doesn't know those family stories and has her own family history to carry on.  She doesn't know that the trunk in the bedroom is the one that my nonie carried all of her worldly possessions in on her trip to the new world or that the wooden box on the chest in the living room is my grandma's sewing box that once held the most fascinating collection of buttons.  No one will want that wooden ironing board that my mother purchased with her first paycheck.  I don't recall what I bought with my first paycheck but I'm fairly certain it wasn't an ironing board.  The brave young lady that marries into a family with only sons is not in an enviable me, I know.

So in the absence of birth daughters I filled my life with virtual daughters....sweet young teachers who needed a school mom (yes, SGW, that is you), young mother neighbors whose own moms were miles away (LDM), students whose mothers didn't "understand" them, high school girls who didn't fit in anywhere and hid out in the library, young friends who needed an adult to plead their case for unlimited texting, and the step daughter of a dear friend who needed a designated mom on girls only outings. ( I was the only mom without a daughter and I'm sure she felt sorry for me and wanted me to feel included. She was like that.)  I'm sure I will continue to add to my collection of "daughters". 

But finally with the addition of a fabulous DIL and beautiful granddaughter (AKA Miss Perfect) I can join the Mother/Daughter club. I know it isn't really the same as I must share them with other strong women in her family but it's a step in the right direction. And maybe, some day, I'll get to share in that "Say yes to the dress" moment.... Things are looking up.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The care and feeding of a substitute teacher

At the one year anniversary of my retirement, DH and I sat down to take stock of our financial situation. I discovered, to my disappointment, that we were not where I thought we were on our financial road. I had not adjusted my spending to match our reduced income (imagine that!) and we had used more from our savings "envelope " than I had realized.  If we wanted to continue to travel with our still working friends, I would need to find a way to add to our income stream.

While I love my quilting business, it doesn't really result in much income. The general public doesn't understand the costs involved in making a quilt so my profit margin is slight. If I charge what a quilt is actually worth in materials and labor, I have little or no business.  So in order to have some business, I charge less than I should.
Now what to do to add to the income?  Retail? Nope.....don't want to work nights and weekends.  Public library work? Same thing, nights and weekends.  Childcare?  Nope....only if it is Mr. Perfect or his equally perfect sister and I could not charge to care for these perfect babies.  And the whole idea of working is to earn some money.  Fast food? must be kidding!  Too out of shape to get into the fitness business.  Not even gonna consider cleaning houses when I have a domestic goddess that does that for ME!  What am I trained and qualified to do? That's it...I'll register as a substitute teacher in my former school district. (I do miss being around the kids so it's a win-win.)
I made all of the right calls, filled in all of the paperwork (not easy to remember some of that 40 year old information), and finally got approved to be a substitute.  At first I intended to only sub for the librarians in my former district but these ladies are a healthy group and the calls just weren't coming in so I decided to venture into the classroom. Of course, I set some limits for myself....No kindergarten, first grade or pre k; No math!; No high school (those big kids scare me!).  
I started accepted assignments carefully and discovered that I didn't hate it.  Oh I got stuck in a few math classes when I was asked to cover some classes other than the job I had accepted and those did not go well.  But no one was permanently injured and I learned that I really do hate math. Of course my favorite assignments are still in the library and in my former school.  I'm still remembered somewhat fondly by the kids there and this proves that absence really does make the heart grow fonder!
But I've learned a few things by being on the other side of the employment contract and I've learned that even though I like the kids in the classes, there are some schools that I just don't like and that I will avoid in the future. The rest of this blog post (rant) is really for my teacher friends so some of you can just stop reading now....unless you want the view of the classroom from the sub's point of view.
So here are my suggestions for teachers to keep in mind when preparing for a sub or encountering a substitute in your building
1.  All of us who are subbing appreciate a well written lesson plan and for the most part, the plans I have found are quite good. 
2.  If your lesson plans involve the use of technology (even something as simple as watching the morning announcements or taking lunch count) please leave the password for your computer and bookmark the site I need on the desktop. Also please do not assume that we know how to use your document camera and digital projectors.  There are many brands of these out there and they all operate slightly differently. Some of us are older and don't know how to use a smart board. Yes, I know that the kids can show us but we actually like to look slightly smarter than a second grade student.
3. Please leave the lunch and recess times in your plans. (Believe it or not, we can't always believe the kids).
4. Please ask your grade level buddies to check on us.  We need to know we are not alone.  The absolutely worst assignments are those in which the entire grade level is gone to attend training.  Then you have blind subs leading blind subs.  And you know that some subs are better than others....just like there are good teachers and great teachers.
5. Please leave plans for dismissal. All schools are different and we want to do it correctly for student safety.
6. (This is the big one) If you are a teacher and you see a sub in the hallway...BE NICE!  If we sit down at lunch with you, don't ignore us. Let us join in the conversation. We are generally nice people or we wouldn't be doing this.  Yes, I am more than likely older than you are but I still have most of my brain cells. I might even have some experience that might be helpful to you. If you cannot acknowledge that I exist, you can be fairly certain that I am going to find out who you are and that I probably won't take a subbing job for you.  If you cannot speak to me, you certainly don't value me enough to leave your students in my old and gnarled hands.. And if you do not value a good sub who will follow your plans to the best of her ability, that is a loss to your and your students.

I guess you can tell by point #6 that I have encountered some less than friendly teachers. It's the truth but it has also made me reflect on the way that I treated subs when I taught. I'm not talking about subs that I used...I probably left them way too many instructions. I'm talking about the way I interacted with random subs at lunch, dismissal, during hallway duty or at recess. And I'm certain I was guilty of the behaviors that I dislike the most....I'm sure that I did not make the effort to include them in the conversation...after all, I'll probably never see them again! I didn't offer to make sure that they knew how to use all of the equipment and I know I rolled my eyes and said something like, "what did you expect....she's a sub!" I did develop friendships with the subs who seemed to always be in our building  but I wonder if some good subs chose not to return because I wasn't as nice as I could have been. 

Being a substitute teacher isn't easy but I'm glad I decided to give it a try. I'll probably continue to do this part time job for a few years and I know I will be selective about the jobs I take. I won't change my mind about pre k, kindergarten, first grade, or high school (unless it's in the library).I don't wish illness on my library friends but I do wish they weren't so disgustingly healthy.  (I am assuming here that they actually have me as a preferred sub and that I did not do a bad job for them or that they did not like me when I worked with them and will not let me darken the door to their domain!)

 And you can be very sure that I will never knowingly take a math job!